What’s up with… Ofcom and Openreach, Microsoft and Qualcomm, Open RAN and vRAN

TelecomTV Staff
By TelecomTV Staff

May 24, 2023

  • UK regulator gives thumbs up to Openreach’s Equinox 2 offer
  • Microsoft and Qualcomm tackle on-device generative AI
  • Open RAN and vRAN growth slowed in Q1

In today’s industry news roundup: BT’s access network division has regulatory approval for its latest discounted wholesale pricing offer for UK ISPs; Qualcomm and Microsoft enable on-device generative AI; growth rates slowed in the Open RAN and vRAN technology sectors in the first quarter of this year, according to the Dell’Oro Group; and more!

UK regulator Ofcom has given Openreach, the quasi-autonomous fixed access network division of BT Group, the green light for its Equinox 2 pricing offer: Ofcom had extended its review of the offer earlier this year but announced today that “Having carefully assessed the range of evidence available to us – including responses to our public consultation – we have decided not to prevent Equinox 2 from being introduced.” The regulator noted that, in response to concerns raised in the UK sector, Openreach had informed Ofcom of “plans to make certain commitments regarding its future conduct, including not having any current plans to change its Equinox 2 rental prices and no intention to initiate further changes until at least 31 March 2026. This may provide further clarity for altnets and their investors.” As you’d imagine, Greg Mesch, the CEO of Openreach’s main wholesale altnet challenger, CityFibre, wasn’t happy with the verdict. “We are disappointed Equinox 2 has been approved and will be undertaking a thorough review of Ofcom’s decision. We are, however, pleased to see Ofcom’s pressure has brought about the end of Equinox, with a commitment from Openreach to make no further changes to its wholesale pricing until April 2026. We must not forget that while introducing price discounts to bind its wholesale customers and damage emerging competition, BT is at the same time significantly increasing prices for millions of its retail consumers. Ofcom must ensure that competition is effective and sustainable if consumers are to benefit,” stated Mesch. Industry analyst Kester Mann, CCS Insight director of consumer and connectivity, isn’t surprised by Ofcom’s decision. “With the UK full-fibre market firing on all cylinders, it would have been a major surprise if Ofcom had blocked Equinox 2. But the fact that the UK regulator delayed its initial decision on the controversial pricing mechanism for further assessment shows too that it is not prepared to let BT have everything its own way. French billionaire Patrick Drahi will also be relieved; Ofcom’s announcement comes just 24 hours after the businessman upped his stake in BT to 24.5%. The announcement is good news for service providers using the Openreach network, such as Sky and Vodafone, which will receive cheaper wholesale prices if they commit to a long-term deal. Customers will benefit too, assuming this discount is passed on. But it’s a big blow to the UK’s many aspiring fibre altnets, which will [no doubt] fear the move could stifle efforts to challenge BT. A backlash from companies like CityFibre is inevitable. And with the discounts being applied equally throughout the UK, we could see greater impact on locations where build costs are highest. This could hinder connectivity in some of the more rural parts of the UK raising concerns about the digital divide,” noted Mann. And PP Foresight analyst Paolo Pescatore believes it’s not just CityFibre that will feel the impact of this decision. “This will be a bitter pill to swallow for rival infrastructure suppliers like Virgin Media O2 and [the wholesale] altnets. While this latest offer feels more like tweaks, it will continue to raise eyebrows. Rivals will feel that Openreach is trying to use its market dominance by locking in providers for longer. If so, this will squeeze their own margins, making it harder to roll out their own networks and compete at scale. However, Openreach wants to have long-term certainty as it invests in building out a fibre broadband network in the UK. This is a significant move from Ofcom, which initially did not raise any objectives and then seemed to backtrack,” added Pescatore.  

Microsoft and Qualcomm have teamed up to develop the technology that will enable device manufacturers to include generative AI capabilities during the product design and build stage. At this week’s Microsoft Build 2023, Qualcomm revealed its latest innovations related to on-device AI, including showing generative AI running on Snapdragon compute platforms. “For generative AI to become truly mainstream, much of the inferencing will need to be executed on edge devices,” noted Ziad Asghar, senior vice president of product management at Qualcomm Technologies. “Our best-in-class AI hardware and software empowers developers to make full use of our powerful AI capabilities, delivering incredible new user experiences on laptops, phones and other devices powered by Snapdragon,” he added. Read more

Still with AI… CommScope has unveiled an AI-based software product, the ServAssure Profile Optimizer, that is “designed to improve the performance of broadband operators’ services,” specifically cable broadband operators.  According to the vendor, the new product can help boost network capacity and performance, as well as reduce operating expenditures, using millions of data points gathered from devices on operators’ access networks that is fed into an AI engine, which analyses the information and “generates DOCSIS 3.1 modulation profiles to enable improved stability and higher performance for broadband operators.” Read more.

Growth in the Open RAN and vRAN technology sub-sectors of the overall radio access network (RAN) equipment market slowed down in the first quarter of 2023 following dramatic growth in 2022, according to the analyst team at Dell’Oro Group. “Since both Open RAN and vRAN are still driven by a few large service providers, the slower growth in the first quarter was for the most part in line with expectations, reflecting more the state of the 5G rollouts with some of the advanced operators than a shift in the overall Open RAN/vRAN market sentiment,” noted Stefan Pongratz, vice president at Dell’Oro. “There are also signs that activity is improving beyond the early adopters but it will of course take some time for the sum of these smaller early majority-type deployments to move the broader market,” added Pongratz. According to Dell’Oro, year-on-year Open RAN revenue growth was in the 10% to 20% range in the first quarter, while the vRAN market grew by 20% to 30%, with Samsung, NEC, Fujitsu, Rakuten Symphony and Mavenir identified as the leading Open RAN vendors. According to Dell’Oro, Open RAN revenues are still on course to account for between 6% and 10% of the total global RAN market this year, which puts it at (roughly) US$2.4bn to $4bn. 

Colt Technology Services has teamed up with UK-based cybersecurity specialist Venari Security to offer enterprises “deeper visibility into their encrypted network traffic, improving security and helping them to stay on top of complex regulatory requirements,” the companies announced in this press release. Colt will integrate VigilanceAI, Venari Security’s pioneering encrypted traffic analysis (ETA) platform, into its existing service offering. 

A change of guard at optical networking and virtualisation software vendor ADVA, which is now part of the Adtran empire following last year’s merger: Tom Stanton, Adtran’s CEO, will also become the CEO of ADVA, with current ADVA chief Christoph Glingener stepping down from 30 June to take on his previous role as the chief technology officer (CTO) of ADVA, as well as continuing as the CTO of Adtran. Read more

Vodafone UK has established a new division called Vodafone in Health with the aim of becoming “a trusted advisor to the health sector, working in partnership with them to develop technology products. Vodafone in Health will combine secure, modern and reliable connectivity healthcare expertise with best-in-class partners to support the delivery of better patient outcomes,” noted the operator in this announcement.

- The staff, TelecomTV